But is it Art?

An artist’s take on over-the-top gardening


Here’s another man about gardening, but he’s not a plant expert or designer. Buffalo resident John Pfahl is known far and wide for his landscape photography, particularly of Niagara Falls and other waterfalls and rivers. He’s also done several series that are of special interest to gardeners. The photographs are exhibited through Janet Borden Gallery in New York and Nina Freudenheim Gallery in Buffalo; Pfahl has also published several books.

My favorite, Extreme Horticulture, (Frances Lincoln, 2003) is an out-of-the-ordinary book for any gardener’s coffee table. Pfahl traveled throughout the United States to find the most striking, far-out, amazing, and spectacular examples of botanical wonders (most created or encouraged by humans). Shown above is a banyan tree (planted from a sprig in 1937) at Cypress Gardens in Florida.

Pfahl spends plenty of time at the usual suspects—Cypress, Longwood, the Getty, Lotusland—but he was also able to find intriguing cultivations is less obvious locations. Here is a radically pruned maple in Chatauqua (much of it was diseased)

and here’s a highway interchange planting in Carlsbad, California.

I’d love to see—just once—this fairy tale scene from Lotusland, which is featured on the cover.

I am also a huge fan of The Very Rich Hours of a Compost Pile, a series that documents moments in Pfahl’s own compost heap. Yes, Pfahl is also a gardener, and a regular visitor to my garden during Garden Walk.

I know there are a lot of photographers out there—indeed, we’re all the photo-historians of our own gardens—but I like the incisive, controlled romance of Pfahl’s viewfinder. He loves to find and document the extremes, but he never goes over the edge himself.

Finally, here’s the man himself, poised at the brink of the Niagara Falls rapids.Pfahl2

Posted by on March 7, 2007 at 4:18 am, in the category But is it Art?.
Comments are off for this post

8 responses to “An artist’s take on over-the-top gardening”

  1. Susan Harris says:

    Very cool. Do you know anything about the Carlsbad shot, like what’s all that pink?

  2. eliz says:

    It’s ice plant and geraniums. The ice plant is the pink. The light has to hit it a certain way, I guess, according to the brief text that accompanies that image.

  3. Amy T. says:

    That maple is fascinating! It’s interesting how the one branch grew into a maple tree shape even though it’s off the main trunk. Trees are so resilient.

  4. firefly says:

    Some of the photos look like Uelsmann composites — it’s that much cooler that they are records of natural shapes.

  5. A long time ago I was a model for a student in Uelsmann’s photography class. I am much more of a horticultural wonder now with that aged patina.

    When an artist turns their eye to a subject, the ordinary can become extreme.

    I just entered a photo contest for Microsofts new Vista software promo. It is called Show us your Wow. The entries are dominated by pictures of the natural world. We often lament our dying connection to the natural world, but it is always there inspiring mankind despite ourselves.

  6. JLB says:

    This is outstanding–thanks for sharing!

  7. Ellis Hollow says:

    I remember visiting my grandparents in Florida at about age 10 and seeing that banyan tree at Cypress Gardens. It’s my first recollection of thinking plants might be cool.

  8. Royann says:

    The freeways of San Diego County are covered with that pink ice plant. In Early spring the sides of the freeway are a riot of color and bees.